In the past pillows were made of feathers, foam rubber, foam chips or dacron. Nowadays there are many different types of pillows such as memory foam, contour pillows, buckwheat and orthopaedic style pillows.
Unfortunately no one pillow suits everyone. The pillow that you find the most comfortable and that allows you to wake up in the morning with no neck pain, stiffness or headaches is the right one for you. If you have a number of different pillows in the house, it is a good idea to try them out before purchasing another pillow.
A good pillow should support your head and neck so that it is maintained in a neutral position while you sleep. The pillow or pillows need to accommodate the position in which you sleep as well as your body shape so that your neck is supported as well as your head.
Foam rubber, foam chips and sometimes dacron pillows have a recoil factor which causes the muscles in the neck to maintain some activity through the night and this may lead to an uncomfortable nights sleep.
Children don’t require a pillow until their shoulder width increases beyond the width of their head when a thin pillow would suit.
SLEEPING ON YOUR BACK
In most cases you will only need one pillow when lying on your back. It should support your neck as well as your head and keep you head in neutral with your face horizontal. For example the shape of a contour pillow is such that the head is in the “gutter” of the pillow and the neck is supported on the higher contour as in the photo. If you have a “mouldable” pillow such as a feather pillow you can bunch the pillow up under your neck and pull the corners of the pillow around the sides of your neck for further support.
As you get older, you may become more rounded in your spine and therefore require two pillows under your head to keep you spine in neutral.
As you can see from this diagramme the “C” curve in the upper back is bigger in the person on the right, the head is further forward and so two pillows are needed to support the head and neck in the neutral position.
If you feel pain or a strain in your lower back when sleeping on your back you should put a pillow under your knees as in the diagramme above.
SLEEPING ON YOUR SIDE
Most people like to sleep on their side. In this case the pillow should fill in the space between the mattress and your head and neck. If you have wide shoulders you will need at least two pillows depending on your shoulders and the size of the pillow. Once again it is important that your head and neck are in correct alignment when sleeping on your side.
If the pillow is too high or too low as in diagrammes 2 and 3 above, the neck soft tissues and joints will be placed in a position of stress for the whole night and you could well wake with a sore neck
These pictures show the correct alignment of the head and neck but don’t show the neck being supported as in the picture below where the person is using a contour pillow. Contour pillows don’t suit everyone; it is a matter of what feels comfortable. Other types of pillows can be bunched up to support the head and neck. Remember that if you have wide shoulders you will probably need two pillows.
SLEEPING ON YOUR TUMMY
This is not recommended as your neck is placed in a position of rotation at the end of the range of movement for the whole night. This compresses one side of the neck and stretches the other side which over time could give you a painful neck and/or headaches.